Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Knitting Project: The Market Bag

As I am prone to do at this time of year, I have been starting knitting projects left and right, with nowhere near enough time or energy to finish them all before my crafty energy exhausts itself. Amazingly enough, I actually started and finished and even liked my latest project - The Market Bag.

Here's a picture of my bag next to the photo of what it would have looked like had I followed the pattern to a "t", which I never do.

In case you're a knitting knerd and want the deets - I scrapped the pattern for the main body of the bag (but kept the stitch count and measurements the same) and replaced it with the trusty-dusty ol' trinity stitch. I also improvised a bit on the handle, giving it two small handles instead of a single shoulder strap. After all, this puppy is going to need to carry some serious goods home from the farmers market.

I actually really enjoyed making this bag, and as soon as I finally finish the scarves that I had to give IOU's to folks for (oops), I think I'll try another of these.

Name the Fungus!

Lately, I have acquired an interest in mushrooming and foraging in general. As is typical for me when first diving into a new hobby, I have amassed stack of books nearly up to my chin on foraging, plant identification, field guides, mushroom hunting, etc., all which I have been reading (and attempting to commit to memory) night and day. I've also taken to trying to i.d. each and every 'shroom that crosses my path.

However, I have a healthy sense of caution when it comes to ingesting/using anything that might be potentially harmful, and am therefore looking for a little help in determining whether or not the following 'shrooms are of an edible variety.

Might these be Chicken of the Woods?

I have no idea what these are, but they're growing on my nearly-dead mountain ash trees.

If you have a knack for shroomery, please feel free to weigh in!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Free Chocolate!?!

The folks over at Chocolate-Covered Katie are giving away a BOX of "Wild Bars". Scoot on over to check it out and enter to win some healthy goodies!

Thanks to Amy @ Life in the Slow Lane for the link!

Strawberry Surprise

With each hen that has commenced to lay, I have been delighted anew by the pride that I feel in my healthy, happy bird, and in the comfort of the forthcoming abundance of the near-perfect food that is an organic egg.

Having three hens that were laying fairly regularly, we've been "in the eggs", reaping on average about a dozen and a half per week. Enough to meet our holiday baking needs and still give some away to friends & family. All of our girls were up and running, with the exception of one.

Strawberry, an Americauna hen, was our lone holdout. She was by far the gangliest and most high-strung of our flock, and the very last to show signs of maturity or maternity. Frankly, she had me a little worried that she was either infertile or unwell in some capacity. That is until last week, when she started exhibiting a few of the behaviors that I have noted in our hens that are laying, namely, a heightened startle response and a LOT more vocalization. Sure enough, a few days after the onset of "the signs", the girls went out to feed the chicks and said that Strawberry was in the nest box. Hurrah!

Alas, poor Strawberry labored and clucked for the better part of the day, with nothing to show for it by day's end. The next morning though, upon letting the chickies out of the hen house, I find 2 eggs in the nest box - both brown. Ok, this was weird. We have 4 hens, three of whom are Americaunas and one Silver-Laced Wyandotte. Americaunas are a favorite chicken to keep because they lay beautiful and unusually colored eggs - light olive green to sky blue. The Wyandottes lay a lovely pinkish-brown egg. So, I should have 3 blue/green and one brown per day. How in the heck had I ended up with 2 brown?

Well, as it turns out, the chicks sold to me as Americaunas, were in fact, actually "Easter Eggers". Essentially, they are mutts, but with a large enough slice of the Americauna/Aracauna features to be sold as such. Though she looks every bit an Americauna externally, Strawberry's mixed heritage was outed upon her laying her first milk-chocolate colored egg. Easter Eggers, it turns out, can lay just about any color egg - brown, white, olive, pink, blue or green.

Though we were surprised by her eggs, we were not in the least disappointed by them. After all, our family are essentially mutts as well - Ukrainian, German, Welsh, Scottish, Cherokee and English, among others - and are better for having so many varied and rich influences in our blood and in our traditions.

We now can expect in the neighborhood of 2 dozen eggs per week! Besides giving some of our surplus away, and perhaps letting the girls sell a few for pocket money, I'm hoping to find a beekeeper or orchard owner who wouldn't mind swapping some eggs for honey or fruit, to be made into jams, wines, ciders & meads. Oh the possibilities!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Looks like we made iiiiit...

Yes, I'm quoting Barry Manilow. Why? In honor of the Winter Solstice, of course.

I truly enjoy each of the seasons in their turn, but as I have previously whined mentioned, some of them wear a little harder on me than others. In this case, winter. Though the solstice is technically the official beginning of winter, I, in my ever-positive nature, prefer to see it as the slippery slope toward spring. We'll be gaining just a bit more daylight each day now, and paltry as those 45 seconds may seem, they eventually add up to bright spring days warm enough for me to spend the morning in my garden without numb fingers and a runny nose.

First I get a Barry Manilow song stuck in your head, then I wrap things up with an image of snot. You're welcome, America.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Three down, One to go

As of this morning, three out of our four hens are now up and running egg-wise, with my husband's chick (who he officially named "Godzilla", but whom the girls have more suitably re-named, "Rose") being the latest to join the mommy club.

Our last holdout hennie that has yet to lay is the incredibly high-maintenance, "Strawberry", who possesses, among other lovely attributes, a propensity for roosting in the rafters of the coop (rather than in the security of the hen house) every single night of her life. We naturally then, have to climb up and scoop a very startled/sleepy/combative chicken off of the roof and shoehorn her into the hen house - thus potentially saving her from freezing or predator raids - every single night of her life. It is rather fitting that she is such a stubborn, diva of a bird, considering that she is officially the pet of my youngest daughter, Scarlet, who is herself known for her hard-headedness. Just ask anyone who has ever met her. Brats of a feather, I guess...

At any rate, yee-haw! - three eggs per day! There is increasing reason for me to believe that I'll someday actually use all of those egg cartons that I've been stockpiling since we first bought the chicks. Man, the things that pass for exciting and newsworthy around here these days...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Amish Bread, Variation #745

If you know me, then you probably know that as much as I love to cook, I generally fear & dislike baking. It's all of the delicate chemistry involved. You aren't supposed to substitute or improvise when making a bread or dough, the leavening & gluten are too persnickity to be monkeyed with by a haphazard cook. Especially one with a cruddy, barely-functioning oven, such as mine.

That must be why, then, that my adventures with Amish bread have me so excited and verbose today. I've somehow managed to produce another successful batch of two dozen baby loaves (a doubled recipe) with a new assortment of hastily improvised and substitued ingredients. Here is today's re-revised recipe, and a link, once again to the original.

Amish Bread o' the day-
(This is the ingredient list, not including the starter.)

wet ingredients
1/2 c. oil
1/2 c. pumpkin puree (homemade, thank you very much!)
1 c. milk
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. fireweed honey
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

dry ingredients
2 c. unbleached flour
1/2 c. sugar (I prefer turbinado)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder (I use the aluminum-free stuff from Bob's Red Mill)
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice mix
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/6 c. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup nuts (optional) - I've added chocolate chips instead on a few occasions.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Mix and pour into well buttered bread pans. Bake at 325 degrees for about and hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean. - I also cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil about 3/4 of the way through the baking process to keep the top crust from over-browning while giving the loaf a chance to finish cooking throughout.

Additional notes - I actually preheat the oven to 350, and turn down to 325 just after the bread goes in. I just read about this little trick in The Bread Bible and it seems to me that the bread rose a little better with the extra boost of heat early in the baking process. After the bread was out of the oven, de-panned and cooled, I brushed the tops of the loaves with just a little maple syrup and sprinkled coarse, turbinado sugar on top.

And seriously, folks, if you need a bread starter, drop me a line.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Seeds 'n' Stuff

I'm either neurotic or bored, because I've already started planning next spring's garden, and have even just ordered some seeds from my beloved Victory Seed Company. Here's what I've ordered, what I saved and what I still need to get-

*Squash, "Cocozelle" (grew these last year and loved them!)
*Squash, "Burgess Buttercup"
*Pumpkin, "Cinderella"
*Cucumber, "Homemade Pickles"
*Carrot, "Chantenay Red Cored"
*Carrot, "Little Fingers"
*Mammoth Dill
*Sunflower, "Autumn Beauty"
*Sunflower, "Annual"

Saved & Given
*Swiss Chard (from Kristin - thanks!)
*Cilantro (saved seed)
*Squash, "Delicata" (leftover from last year)
*Arugula (saved)
*Sweet Peas (leftover from last year)
*Lettuce, "Marvielle de quatre saisons" (leftover from last year)

Starts to get in the Spring-
*Tomatoes (starting these from seed last year failed miserably!)
*Lemongrass (I want to give this a try in my pond.)
*Blueberries (Grandpa has offered us his blueberries which are failing to thrive for him. I don't know if we can turn them around, but I'll sure try!)
*4 fruit trees (We have 4 dying non-fruiting trees in our yard that will be replaced with as-yet undetermined fruit or nut trees. We're leaning toward pie cherries, apples, peaches, big-leaf maple (for the sap) or walnuts.
*Yet another male fuzzy kiwi - Let's hope this guy lives longer than his predecessors!

Our plan is ever-evolving, but a few things are locked in - we're expanding the garden by at least two beds, we (or more accurately, Bill) will be building one or two cold frames out of found/scavanged windows & lumber, and we'll be doubling the number of tomatoes that we plant, because we use them like mad, and because of some concerns that I have about the healthfulness of canned tomatoes - even the organic ones. :(

At the moment I'm researching, reading and planning; readying myself for the days when the sun comes back and the green things thrive. I can only hope that my energy comes back at the same time, because right now, on these single-digit freezing cold days of snuggling by the fire, reading and knitting, I'm blissfully lazy, just daydreaming of sunny spring days to come.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Baby it's Cold Outside/Red Light Special

It gets cold in the winter here in Western WA, but it doesn't usually get COLD cold. The past few days and nights, we've had lows of 5 degrees and highs in the low 30's. In addition to the cold, this blast of Arctic air is also dry as a bone, causing me and everyone else, wrapped from head to toe in fleece and wool, to build up such a quantity of static electricity that our hair stands on end or stubbornly glues itself to our foreheads, and we routinely zap the bejeezus out of everything and everyone we touch. Good times!

Alas, we zap-happy humans are not the cold's only victims.

You know those red heat lamps that McDonald's uses to keep their nasty "food" warm and "fresh"? At the moment, a disturbingly similar-looking lamp is about all that is keeping my chickens from becoming chickie-sicles. I had vowed not to use a heat lamp in the coop if at all possible, but it looks like once again I'll be eating my words.

I don't feel guilty for doing what is necessary to keep the critters (and people) in my care healthy and happy, but I do feel bad for using so much extra electricity lately. I'm wracking my brain for ways to make it up, but with the very real chance of pipes freezing, and three exotic pets in the house who don't take kindly to dips in temperatures, I'm at a loss for what to do. I could probably unplug the fridge for a few days...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

For the Birds

Have you ever heard of "bird bread"?

Bird bread is basically the same day-old stuff that you can get for a dollar or two per loaf at a bakery outlet store. The difference is that you have to ask specifically for "bird bread" and you don't get to pick the exact bread products that you get. On the other hand, at the bakery outlet that I go to, they stuff 4 or 5 loaves into each bag and charge just $1.50 per bag.

The last time that I bought bird bread, 4 out of my 10 loaves were organic whole-grain breads that usually sell for $3.99 apiece, and I got all 10 loaves for $3.00.

I do end up feeding the majority of the "bird bread" to my chickens, who love the treat, but if a loaf of something yummy or interesting ends up in one of our bags (like the organic, whole-grain stuff or some cinnamon-raisin bagels), we'll eat it ourselves. Has my frugality hit a new low or a new high?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I've got my Mother-in-law's hips

Her rose hips, that is.

I've heard so many wonderful things about rose hip wine, that I've decided to give it a go. My sister-in-law and I raided my MIL's rose bushes and managed to scavenge almost a pound and a half of hips, but unfortunately, most recipes call for 2 1/2 pounds of rose hips to make a gallon of wine.

So, I'm looking to supplement my stash of rosehips. If you live in the Puget Sound area, have unsprayed rosebushes and don't want or need the hips, I'd be happy to take a few off your hands in exchange for a future share of the wine. ;)

If I can't come up with more, I might just end up making a half gallon. If/when I do, I'll post pics and the recipe.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Amish Bread, you are a harsh mistress

This madness all started with my mother. Like a drug pusher, she foisted onto me what has to be the world's most annoying snack, Amish Friendship Bread, mainly by roping my children in with "a taste". Look, Chelle! The girls like it! Here, take home a starter... And so it began.

It is the chain letter of baked goods, the rabbit of breads, with each batch spawning three additional "starters" that are meant to be given away to friends and neighbors, hence, the "friendship" thing. I find myself concerned that the opposite might end up being true. If I keep trying to pawn this beast off on people, I fear that I might actually start losing friends.

In addition to my issues with it's reproductive habits, I have multiple beefs with this recipe, starting with the Amish bit. Amish, really? Since when do the Amish add a box of Jello instant pudding to anything? Secondly, was this recipe invented by the owner of a grocery store? Good Lord, look at that ingredient list! Yet I grudgingly bake up a batch (or 4) of bread every time the starter comes due to bake, because my girlies love the stuff. Hence my deep-seated contempt.

In the event that you are crazy enough to try and take this on - PLEASE let me know, because I always have a starter going. Additionally, I have made a few minor modifications to the main recipe that I think have improved it. Here is the original recipe (post starter phase), with my modifications -

wet ingredients
1 cup oil 1/2 c. oil & 1/2 c. chunky applesauce
1/2 c. milk 1/2 c. egg nog
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

dry ingredients
2 c. flour (I tried 1/2 white & 1/2 wheat, but I didn't care for the texture.)
1 c. sugar (or 1/2 c. sugar, 1/2 c. maple syrup)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder (I use the aluminum-free stuff from Bob's Red Mill)
2 tsp. cinnamon 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon & 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice mix
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 (5.1 oz) box instant vanilla pudding 1/6 c. cornstarch & 1/6 c. sugar
(seriously, read the ingredients on a box of instant pudding - sugar & cornstarch)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup nuts (optional) - I've added chocolate chips instead on a few occasions.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Mix and pour into well greased and sugared bread pans. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour until a toothpick comes out clean. - I also cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil about 3/4 of the way through the baking process to keep the top crust from over-browning while giving the loaf a chance to finish cooking throughout.

That is a pain in the butt, as professed, no? But my monkey-girls love the stuff so much that I just keep on making it. I'm thinking of some more possible modifications/incarnations - maybe adding a little solid-pack pumpkin or grated zucchini? Walnut oil instead of vegetable oil? Hmmm....

At any rate, if you think yourself up to the task of baking every 10 days, like it or not, like clockwork, and want a starter, drop me a line. But, when you find your kitchen counters covered in baggies and tupperware full of bread batter, and friends going out of their way to avoid being "gifted" with a starter - don't say you weren't warned.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Recipe: Vegetable Stock

Remember that to do list that I brazenly posted yesterday? Yeah, I only got 1.2 items checked off of that puppy. 1 - the veggie stock. The .2 goes to the single wheelbarrow full of leaves that I raked up before wimping out and retreating to my warm living room and its comfy couches. Never one to dwell on the negative, I will therefore celebrate the completion of the vegetable stock by posting my "recipe" for it here.

Step one - Remove all vegetable matter from your fridge's crisper drawer.
Step two - Wash & chop (or not) said vegetable manner to the size of your liking.
Step three - Throw all veggies into the biggest stockpot you have, top with fresh or dried herbs and seasonings of your liking.

Step four - Fill stockpot with water enough to just cover the veggies, set heat to medium-low, cover stockpot and forget about it for a few hours.
Step five - (Not recommended) Take an impromptu nap on the couch, only to wake up in a panic, wondering if you've started the house on fire with your neglected stock.
Step six - After insuring that the house is indeed still intact, stir and taste stock for seasoning. If done, take off of heat and allow to cool.
Step seven - Strain cooled stock through a fine sieve (I also set a paper coffee filter in mine, so I don't get the spice sludge at the bottom of my broth.) and ladle or pour into freezer containers or ice cube trays. DONE!
Step eight - Optional - After I strained off my first pot full of stock I refilled the pot with water and fresh spices and set it back to cook for round two. The second batch of broth was slightly less intensely flavored, but still very good.

As you can see by my photo, I used quite a melange of veggies - leek tops, mushroom stems, greenish-red tomatoes, delicata squash, kale, garlic, celery, carrots, fresh herbs (rosemary, lemon thyme & oregano) plus the obligatory sea salt and pepper. I might use a little less kale next time, as its flavor overpowered the others somewhat. I used a few cups of the stock to make potato soup for the fam last night and I am really pleased with how it came out. After dealing with all the broth, I chopped/smooshed the cooked down veggies (minus the onions and garlic) and fed them to my chickens, composting the remainder.

Now the veggie drawer is empty and the freezer is full. Not bad for "throw away" food!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Spring Fall Cleaning

All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray...

So goes fall, winter and sometimes a chunk of spring here in beautiful Western Washington. We've been huddled up inside increasingly often these days, which seems to have triggered a mild case of cabin fever/organizational mania in me. On my list of to-do's for today -

*Rake leaves. This might sound like moderately simple chore to anyone who hasn't seen my yard, but trust me, it's a good day's work. True, though we have just 1/4 acre, the previous owner was, to say the least, an avid tree-planter. Therefore, we have around 20 trees of varying sorts in our yard, all of them deciduous.

*Trim grape vines.

*Muck out (or get husband to muck out) chicken coop.

*Drop bags full of ill-fitting clothes off at the neighborhood clothing bank.

*Sort through books for Powells. If you've never been to Powells, well, you need to see it to believe it. They are the independent bookseller here on the west coast, located in downtown Portland. The store covers and entire city block and requires a map to navigate - seriously. Once or twice per year we purge the ol' book collection and take them down to Powells Books to trade in for store credit for new, used books.

*Make stock. We're going to be out of town for a few days and I need to empty out the veggie drawer before we go. Bubble, bubble...

Oof - I'm tired just writing that. I actually started the leaf raking this morning before the sky opened up and drove me back in the house. I don't mind doing yard work in the rain or cold, but I draw the line at rain and cold. You have a message for me, Mother Nature, and I hear you. You clearly said Get out of the miserable weather and go fritter away an hour on the computer with a big cup of strong coffee, my child.

Yes, Ma.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Freaky Egg

When I went out to lock the hens up tonight, I checked the nest box just for good measure, and this freaky mess is what I found -

Amelia hadn't laid for 2 days previous to this. By the way - the shell is basically non-existent. It felt like a warmish water balloon. Ew...

So, my questions now are -

a) Should I be concerned about Amelia's health?

b) Can I eat this egg?

c) Do I even WANT to eat this egg? (At the moment - NO.)


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Windfall

We had ourselves a mighty bit of wind and rain here in Western Washington last night. So much so, that I could barely sleep for fear that the next wicked gust would topple my sad and dying ash trees, and send them straight through my bedroom window. I probably needn't have worried overly much about that, since the trees in question are so thouroughly rotted that in the event that they did fall and strike something on the way down, they would probably just explode in a shower of spongy bark chunks. But I digress from the point of this post.

The result of last evening's mighty wind was to remove the last of the leaves from my trees, leaving my yard suddenly, startling bare. In such a state of nakedness - the yard, not me - I found a few hidden treasures. I was scrounging up some old bricks that we salvaged from our very old chimney to shore up one of my hothouses that has lately been under daily assault by the chickens. In collecting the bricks I happened to look up and see some completely unexpected kiwis. Amazing!

The plants leaves, which are at this time of the year about the same color as the fruit, had been removed to reveal our little surprise fruit. We found seven in total, which is pretty awesome, considering that our male kiwi plant, has yet again died. I don't know if "he" managed to fertilize our enormous female kiwi before biting the dust or if, as has happened in the past, a bee has made it's way from my neighbor's yard to mine with a bit of kiwi pollen on board. We also found a little four inch delicata squash near the kiwi plant. I hadn't noticed that a vine had wandered over there, but it obviously must have.

I love little surprises like that! Alas, my joy will be short lived, since now that the leaves are all down, I have no more excuses to delay raking them up.

By the way - kiwi pics by Olivia - copyright 2009. :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

This appliance will self-destruct in 3 ...2 ...

We've been having clothes dryer issues lately, which may or may not be attributable to a rodent of some sort making a home in our crawlspace. The dryer's misbehavior coincided with the discovery of the varmint break-in, thereby leading us to believe that the two were connected. About the time that the mystery critter started living under the house, the dryer stopped venting to the outside, and began making a weird high-pitched whine. One friend suggested that our dryer hose might have been obstructed by a nest or a stash of winter walnuts, so we took things apart and checked them out. Even after thoroughly cleaning and re-sealing the dryer vent hose, the dryer is still producing the weird noise, but seems to be drying clothes well enough. So I'm debating on calling out the dryer repair man to see what's what, and I am positively dreading it.

If you have needed a service call for an appliance lately, you'll be familiar with all of the little joys that accompany it - the vague appointment time, the minimum service charge, and often in my experience, the cranky attitude. Am I the only one who feels like I pay $90+ to have an insolent little old man come into my home and shame me for the way I treat my appliances? As if that weren't irritating enough, add to that the fact that with increasing frequency, any given appliance can be deemed unfixable by virtue of - a) the complexity of accessing the problem area b) the impossibility of obtaining a now-obsolete part c) the cost of repair being the same as or greater than the cost of replacing the appliance altogether.

This "problem" is actually a well-designed scheme called Planned Obsolescence that exists to encourage our consumption of the "latest and greatest" that the world of technology has to offer, and trading heaps of money for heaps of trash. It is so commonplace that even the most steadfastly Granola among us is likely to question the wisdom of fixing a however-many-years-old clothes dryer for $300 or buying a spanking-new energy efficient one for four hundred.

But what happens to the old one? Why is that one little cog so complicated and expensive that it is worth everyones while to junk a hundred-plus pounds of metal and plastic in favor of another that will also, inevitably fail? We covet shiny new things, and the manufacturers and marketers of the world have seized upon that by designing products with an inborn propensity for failure. They don't want you to repair your microwave, they want you to toss it out and upgrade. Have you ever even heard of anyone repairing a microwave?

This is just another area where our culture has given in to our lazier nature and taken the path of least resistance, and we need to stop it, NOW. Next time you're faced with repairing or replacing an appliance or anything else, take just a few seconds to think about the process that your choice sets in motion and the consequences of it.

Ok - I'll get down off of the soapbox now and back away slowly... for now.

For more info and opinions on the evils of planned obsolescence -

The New York Times, December 10, 2008

These Days in French Life - A wonderful blog - one of my very favorites! (Update - Unfortunately Rianna has decided to no longer publish her blog publicly.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Name that Domain!

For my latest project, I have decided to try and cobble together an informational website about foraging in Western Washington. I'm eyeball-deep in research at the moment, reading scads of field guides and encyclopedias of edible plants and fungi, and pumping friends, family & neighbors for information on their picking & fishing hotspots.

However, a larger task looms - settling on a proper domain name for this proposed project's website. So far I've purchased two, but I'm not super in love with either one, and therefore thought I'd ask y'all for your two cents on the matter. Here are your choices -

A) easypickins.info
B) millionsofpeaches.info (a tip of the hat to the Presidents of the United States of America's song "Peaches")
C) Something else altogether - but probably still a .info, because they are by far the cheapest, and I'm all about frugality. ;)

Kindly cast your vote and feel free to offer suggestions, please and thank you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'm not the only one...

...who appreciates a good late-season raspberry or three.

Go, Bob, go!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sacré Bleu!

Things have been a little slow around here, so the excitement surrounding the discovery of our first blue egg this morning can scarcely be overstated. My husband came in from letting the hens out of the coop and like a goofy magician turned over his opened palms to reveal two fresh eggs - one brown and one blue.

Needless to say, the girls were equally delighted, and briefly debated which of our Americaunas was the likely mama, before somehow deciding that this must surely be Strawberry's egg.

We aren't sure how much longer we'll be getting eggs, as according to Yahoo Weather, sunrise and sunset are now just over 9 1/2 hours apart, with the folk wisdom of chicken-rearing stating that hens must have at least 10 hours of light per day to continue laying. We could throw a blue light in the coop to keep the girls cranking away, buuuut....

a) The idea behind this whole raising chickens thing was to simplify life and consume less. Having a light burning in the coop 14+ hours per day kind of defeats the purpose.

b) My feminist credo is not reserved exclusively for the human female. These girls deserve to take a break, if they so choose. I won't love paying for eggs and feeding non-laying hens at the same time, but fair is fair - this is not a sweatshop.

c) Not knowing if we'll get more, and if so, how many more before the chickies decide to take their break makes every single egg that much more precious - and worth using well.

When all four hennies finally start giving us an egg each per day, we, not being major egg consumers, will likely be looking to share our wealth. Check in once in a while on my GGG facebook page where I will post about extra eggs and any other garden goodies that we have to share or trade.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Rosemary, Baby!

Free to a good home, my ginormous rosemary bush/tree -

This is a "u-dig" adventure, with the prize being what is easily a lifetime supply of beautiful rosemary. We are making way for more raspberry canes, so old rosey has to go.

Total Laziness Sauce

Bill & I finally cleaned out the tomato and squash beds today, and in so doing, grabbed up the last of the tomatoes, ripe or not, and tomatillos. We also discovered our first chili pepper and one scraggling onion. I figured that I might as well just chop it all up and cook it down, since I didn't have the quantity or inclination to try and make a proper salsa out of it, and so I did just that. Viola! Total Laziness Sauce (aka End of the Garden Sauce).

I basically just roughly chopped everything, threw it in the pot and seasoned the bejeezus out of it - cumin, red pepper flakes, sea salt, chipotle, etc. After it cooked down, I took the ol' immersion blender to the whole mess, then poured the sauce through a mesh sieve and that was that. It came out very much like an enchilada sauce, but Bill has visions of dressing some pulled pork with it. Whatever - I'm just glad that we were able to eek one last batch of tomatoey goodness out of the garden before putting it to sleep, and with a minimum of effort on my part.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sauerkraut Update

As a first time sauerkraut maker, and someone who does not personally appreciate the flavor of sauerkraut, it is up to my husband to sample ours to determine it's progress. In Bill's own words - "It smells like death, but it tastes awesome!" I'm going to go ahead an consider that a positive review.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Getting Sauced with my Mom

Believe it or not, Mom & I managed to use up our all of our apples in just one day of industrious peeling, simmering & canning. Approximately 35 pounds of apples yielded just over 25 pints of applesauce for us, and could have made more, had we opted to add sugar, which, in spite of my daughters persistent pro-sugar lobbying, we did not.

We were fortunate to have willing and energetic helpers in my girls, who had great fun using our apple peeler, then feeding the resulting yards-long, skinny apple peels to our chickens. I would love to have documented our three-generation applesauce making effort in pictures, but unfortunately, my darling husband hijacked our camera for a hunting trip and it has not been seen since. :(

Despite a few technical difficulties and a cranky, arthritic knee that makes such long days on my feet somewhat punishing, the process was relatively easy and the sauce turned out delicious. The best part of the day, of course, was the experience of making food the old-fashioned way with my Mom and my girls. Pictures or no pictures, I have a feeling that my girls will remember this day for a long time, and hopefully, will someday make applesauce with their grandchildren too.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Crouching Pullet, Hidden Huevo

Following the monumental event that shall forever be known around here as Egg Day, our chicken fortunes have been fickle. We were blessed with two gorgeous eggs in one day, then nothing at all for two days in a row. As of this morning, the mystery has been solved. Check out my sneaky chick –

That’s my Annabel, who typically, when let out of the coop to graze, either heads straight for the garden to devour my infant peas & arugula, or follows me around like a lost puppy. However, yesterday upon being sprung from the run, she high-tailed it straight over to the woodpile/junk collection area behind our garage and mysteriously disappeared for a few minutes. This morning, she did the same, and being a little slow on the uptake, I finally figured out why –

She seems to prefer her little dugout to the nest box in the henhouse. This little henny has gone from barren to broody in the space of a week! What I’m wondering now, is whether or not I should slip one or two of my dummy eggs into her hidey-hole after I collect her eggs? I don’t want to squash her motherly instinct by raiding her “secret” nest, but I’m too nervous about predators getting wind of our eggs to risk leaving them there for any length of time. If anyone has any thoughts on how to best handle this, I’m open to suggestions.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Hallalujah! While checking on the hens this afternoon, I discovered our first egg. I'd been pretty worried that we weren't going to get one before the laydies closed up shop for the winter, but I guess we lucked out. I decided to let the girls find the egg as soon as they got home from school, and when Scarlet opened the nest box door, lo and behold there were two eggs in there! Both were small and a lovely pinkish brown, and must, therefore be Annabel's, she being our only non-Americauna (blue egg) hen. Behold the proud Grannies -


Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Apple Man Cometh...

...tomorrow! Mom & I ordered a 40-pound box of Fuji apples as part of a Lions Club fundraiser, and they're due to be delivered tomorrow. I'm thinking applesauce for sure, but does anyone have any other tried-and-true canning or freezer-friendly recipe suggestions for an abundance of apples?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sauerkraut für doof Leute

I don’t speak German, which is probably very obvious to those of you who do, considering my hastily translated title; roughly, Sauerkraut for Dummies (That’s me!). Even so, I am proud to be of German heritage. My great-great grandparents emigrated from the town of Chemnitz, coming to this country in the 1880’s and settling amongst many of their countrymen and women in northern Minnesota. Over a century later and several states west of where they started, our family is trying to recover some of our German family history and traditions. Project number one – sauerkraut.

After doing a little research on making sauerkraut, I was pleased to find that the process was relatively simple. In fact, I found that I already had everything that I’d need, minus the cabbage, already in the kitchen, owing to my zeal for winemaking and canning. Here’s what it takes –

-Cabbage (or carrots, turnips, apples, etc. – kraut is a process, not a specific food)
-Canning salt
-A good sized crock with a lid (I used my 6-gallon food grade wine bucket instead. You can pick one up at any homebrew store.)
-Kitchen scale

That’s it. Seriously! The recipe/process that I used is an amalgam of the many recipes I found in books and online, with a generous sprinkling of advice from my far more experienced sauerkraut-making friends at KitchenGardeners.org. Essentially, you clean and core your cabbage, and slice or grate it as thinly as possible (we cut sliced ours with knives, but kraut cutters or mandolines are also good options), with one recipe calling for the cabbage shreds to be as thin as a quarter. Weigh your shredded cabbage as you go, adding roughly 1.5 tsp of canning salt per pound of cabbage. The salt will soften the cabbage and cause it to release much of its liquid, thus creating the brine in which the cabbage will ferment.

At this point, you’ll begin putting your cabbage and brine into your crock or bucket. It will likely take a little muscle to get the cabbage really jammed down into your container tightly, well below the level of the brine (4-5 inches is recommended), for which some folks employ a pounder our a stout mallet. My husband just punched and pressed ours down with his fists. After beating your cabbage into submission, a plate and weight must then be placed inside your fermentation container to hold the cabbage down, lest it float around and encourage funky molds to grow. We used a large salad plate that is just a little smaller around than the inside of our bucket, topped with a very heavy stoneware bowl for weight. Slap a lid on that puppy and you’re done. Mother Nature then steps in and if all goes well, fermentation begins. We are only on day 3 of our kraut, so I have no results to report at this point, but we are checking it daily for signs of progress or distress. No scary smells or mold, so I’m optimistic that we will have some edible sauerkraut in around 4-6 weeks. I’ll let y’all know how it goes!

In the mean time, here are a few pics of our cabbages’ journey thus far, from field to bucket, with more to come as things move along.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Are you there, God? It's me, Chicken.

I am a mother of two young girls. A job that has always been complicated, nerve-wracking and amazing all at the same time.

Girls with throw you for a loop. One day they’re digging worms and climbing trees, the next they’re telling you who they have decided that they’re going to marry, and how that, when they’re finally allowed to wear makeup, they’ll be caking it on “just like a Bratz doll”, (I think I’m having chest pains.) All this, mind you, by the age of nine.

Without getting too soapbox-y, I daresay that I am not alone in my concern that our daughters’ innocent childhood years are becoming less and less so with each passing year. Thanks for everything, Paris Hilton!

Keeping all that in mind, when it comes to my other girlies – the chickens – I find myself actually rooting for puberty. Their fuzzy babyhoods were a lot of fun. Their awkward “tween” phase was very awkward and also pretty funny. To look at them, you’d swear that they were mommas in the making, and yet, our flock has yet to bless us with so much as a single egg. El zilcho. With fall coming down hard and fast here in Western Washington, I’m concerned that my hens will go dormant for the winter before we’ve ever seen our first egg.

How can I get these chickies across that magical threshold called puberty and into the egg business? I’ve been so busy shutting down this premature “maturity” thing around here, that now I haven’t the slightest clue about how to actually encourage it. Maybe if I hang a few posters of hunky, misunderstood roosters around the coop and pipe in some Marvin Gaye tunes…

Friday, October 2, 2009

End of Season Numbers

Since most everything in the garden has lately (or very nearly) given up the ghost, I’ve decided to go ahead and tally up my harvest totals for the spring and summer seasons. My numbers are very approximate being that I am far from perfect in the recordkeeping department, and taking into account kid and chicken pilferage…my totals are of the more or less variety.

Anyhoo, here we go-

Rhubarb – 5 lbs, 2 oz
Cilantro – 6 cups
Mints – 3 cups
Strawberries – 6 pints +/- (These have also just begun fruiting again, but these latest berries will be included on my Fall/Winter totals)
Shelling Peas – 3 cups +/-
Lettuce/Arugula – 7 cups +/- (Most went to seed very soon after planting.)
Kale – unrecorded – but still producing
Wild, foraged cherries – 7 lbs, 5 oz
Basil – 3 cups +/-
Baby Yukon Gold Potatoes – 2 lbs, 11 oz
Wild Foraged Berries (Huckleberries, Salmonberries, Trailing Blackberries) – 1 lb, 4 oz
Zucchini – 24 lbs, 10oz
Blueberries – 1 lb, 10 oz
Raspberries – 3 oz (this was a really bad year for my raspberries)
Delicata Squash – 11 lbs, 8 oz
Vidalia Onions – 8 oz (This is my second year of utterly pathetic onions. I think I’m done with them.)
Hazelnuts – 1 lb, 2 oz
Wild Himalayan Blackberries – 4 lbs, 8 oz
Concord Grapes – 51+ lbs!!!
Cantaloupe – 12 oz (This was our first try. They were tiny, but SO good!)
Tomatoes by type-
Slicing – 32 lbs, 9 oz
Cooking – 30 lbs, 14 oz
Tomatillos – 9 lbs, 8 oz

For a grand total of – 172+ lbs grown and 13+ lbs foraged. These totals don’t include our very modest seafood take for this year, two pink salmon, five red rock crab, plus the odd trout. This being my first year or recordkeeping in detail, I don’t really have anything to compare these numbers to. However, I am certain that this is the single best year that I’ve had for both tomatoes and grapes, both of which went bonkers. Besides being the first year that we have kept detailed records of our garden’s yield, this year’s garden was also a learning experience in that we tried quite a few new crops, used primarily our own compost as soil/fertilizer, and began chicken keeping. We’ve learned at least as much about what doesn’t work in our garden as we’ve learned what does. For instance, tomatoes and squash are obvious shoo-ins for next year’s garden, whereas onions and brussel sprouts will not be returning, due to their disappointing yields.

As a continuation of this year’s experiments, I have, for the first time, planted a few late summer crops for a Fall/Winter harvest, including carrots, arugula, cilantro and snap peas. So, God and weather willing, we will have some fresh veggies and greens to brighten out days in the depths of winter.

I will continue to keep records of my slowly trickling-in fruits and veggies, because my inner Geek compels me to do so, but for all intents and purposes, I consider the garden wrapped up for the year, and not a moment too soon – I’m whooped. ;-)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Attack of the Fruit Flies

One of the few downsides to having a nearly nonstop stream of fresh fruits and vegetables in your kitchen is the appearance of the very persistent fruit fly. Try as I might to take the compost out daily, the fruit flies always seem to find a way to hang on. Our recently adopted hobby of winemaking has not helped. I see fruit flies buzzing around the airlocks on our jugs of wine, presumably drowning their sorrow over their inability to reach the sweet, sweet wine itself, and instead huffing up the powerful fermentation gasses that are regularly belched out via the airlock.

In essence, our kitchen is now an extremely popular fruit fly singles bar.

I have tried good old fashioned fly paper, with some success, and gave one of these traps a whirl, with decent results, but the surest way to catch them still seems to be leaving my cup of coffee unattended for 5 minutes. I tip my cup up to take a drink, and if I'm lucky, notice that I have a passenger in my coffee just in time to abort the sip. If I didn't already have it in for these guys, that'd do it. Not cool, flies, not cool.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The God & Goddess of Wine

We have had a very productive year on our little ¼ acre piece of the planet, with tomatoes being our biggest producer, followed very closely by grapes.

I have been letting the kids pick and eat (or feed the chickens) grapes a few handsful or bucketsful at a time for about a month now, harvested 11 pounds for our neighborhood harvest party, and just today picked the remaining lot – over 40 pounds worth – which puts us at over 50 pounds of grapes for the year, all from a single, productive vine.

This fantastic abundance will allow us to make 5 gallons of grape wine, with plenty of leftover grapes to spare for snacking and sharing with friends. I am so grateful that this wonderful fruit bounty occurred in the very season that I learned to make wine.

With any luck, and barring any giant yeasty mishaps, this time next year we’ll be having a wine tasting. Rhubarb, cherry, blackberry and now grape are all in the works and should be at least drinkable, if not downright delightful, by fall of ’10.

So, in the ancient way of giving thanks for a plentiful harvest, I hereby give a shout out to Dionysus, God of wine and agriculture – Thanks dude! Your timing is awesome! As well as an equally hearty thanks to my friend, Kristin, for her winemaking tutelage and patience with my panicked, emails and phone calls about wines behaving badly – you’re my wine lifeline, lady!

With the end of season in sight, I’m glad to have one more fruit off of the vine and into the kitchen. Now if only the tomatoes would wrap up so that I could plant some Swiss chard in their place…

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fall in Western Washington is...

...shoes that are never completely dry.

...Starbucks lines that are twice as long.

...salmon fishing.

...homemade soup for dinner.

...walking through a spider web every 10 steps.

Thank you for enduring my corny list. Now, for the higher brow folk among you, a haiku for fall in the South Sound -

Fire up the sump pump!
Rain, wind, pine needles flying
Mildew explosion

I think I may have had a little too much caffiene this morning.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Harvest Season

It’s getting to be that time of year. The kids are back in school, the salmon are running, my tomato plants are giving one last, massive fruitful push, and, (as previously mentioned), my crafty-bug has kicked in. Autumn is far and away my favorite season, though I’ve noticed that few people seem to share my love of mellow gray days and downpours. They seem instead to want an eternal summer of clear skies and 80 degree days. I must assume that the majority of these summer people are most likely not gardeners, since most of us garden-folk are weary of the sowing/tending/harvesting cycle by this point in the year and welcome the fall weather for the slow down that it promises.

To me, there is not much in this world more satisfying than sitting down after a long day (or season’s) work and celebrating the fruits (and vegetables) of your labors. This small reward takes many forms – a cupboard full of jewel-colored jars of jam, a chest freezer filled to the gills with your own veggies, and maybe the best of all, the harvest festival – apple cider presses, kids cracking nuts with a hammer (yikes!), neighbors sharing and exchanging their garden goodies and smiles all around.

I was lucky enough to attend a neighborhood harvest party just this past weekend. The party was held by the Wendell Berry Community Garden project to celebrate a year of growing a huge assortment of beautiful, organic fruits and veggies, and in turn, donating thousands of pounds of said veggies to the Thurston County food bank. I was thoroughly inspired by their example. This is the sort of thing that drives me to get out there in my yard and rip up sod and plant in its place loads of extra vegetables, destined to be given away to those who need them the most. I am s-l-o-w-l-y getting there. Every year we add a new garden bed or two, and the previous year’s hits and misses help us decide what will work and what won’t. So, instead of being altogether calming, this particular harvest festival was actually pretty motivating. Rather than taking my ease with a latte and a good book, I am already sketching and plotting next spring’s garden.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Knervous Knitter

Today was the first day back to school for my kids, and most significantly, for my youngest, who is in school full time this year for the first time ever. This leaves me home alone for just over 6 hours per day. I have been looking forward to this day with increasing excitement for nearly 10 years now, and here it is, and I don’t know what to do with myself.

The girls have been away at school for roughly 5 hours now, and I have been bumping around the house like a bee in a bottle, bouncing from one task to the next. In addition to the usual household chores, in the past five hours I have –

*finished knitting a dishcloth
*started knitting yet another dishcloth
*cut & sewn a quilt top for my baby nephew

It seems that the confluence of abundant free time and the beginning of autumn have kicked my inner Martha Stewart into overdrive.

If you catch me trying to make place cards out of fallen leaves or knitting someone a holiday sweater, feel free to slap me.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Chicken Wranglin', Part One

This past Spring, our family, as a part of our new locavore lifestyle experiment, decided to give backyard chicken keeping a try. “City chickens” have become increasingly more common over the past few years, thanks to our death-spiral economy and the resurgence of the back-to-the-land sentiment amongst granolas and granola wannabes like myself. Therefore, between the library and the internet, we discovered a wealth of information available about how to build, populate and care for our very own coop full of chickens, right here in the city.

As most folks would before bring home a new pet, my husband and I researched every possible calamity and pitfall of owning chickens – irritated neighbors, funky smells, predator raids, exotic chicken diseases, etc. – and still decided to take the plunge into chicken ownership. We were excited! After scouring the internet for a suitably predator-proof coop plan, construction began in earnest.

By mid-May, the coop was done and my husband and I were being besieged daily by our daughters with, Can we get the chicks today? Pleeeeease!, until we finally gave in and headed out for the feed store to pick us some chickens.

Hooboy, the feed store. There are few places where I have felt like a bigger poseur/idiot than I do at the feed store. While the employees there are always very nice, I can sense their amusement and maybe just a smidge of irritation with me for all of my naïve questions and aimless wandering of their aisles. Luckily, my hubby grew up in the country in a small town called Yelm, and knows how to talk the talk of the country feed store – i.e. – the g’s start falling off words like hail from a storm cloud. What type a bailin’ wire you recommend? I call it his “Yelmese”.

Strange as it is to witness, his assimilation into country culture is most effective. Especially when contrasted with his stuttering, dingbat, city slicker wife asking what she had no idea were ridiculous questions.

Awkward questions and all, at the end of the day we were 6 chickens (and their copious accessories) richer, and $100 poorer. We were officially chicken owners.

To be continued…

Friday, September 4, 2009


My seemingly endless flow of zucchini has finally, sadly dwindled down to just one or two squash per week now, lately being outshined by the just-hitting-their-stride Delicata Squash.

As the Delicatas start rolling in, I am increasingly under the gun to find ways to put them to good use. It has been on my to-do list for a little while now to put my trusty-dusty Kitchenaid stand mixer and its pasta roller attachment to work, and make up a mega batch of Delicata squash ravioli. I had no illusions about the amount of time and labor that would be involved in bringing these to fruition, so I held off on starting raviolifest until I knew that the time was right.

Today was the day.

Our computer had suddenly, mysteriously died the night before (just as suddenly and mysteriously as it seems to have resurrected itself today), removing a major time-eating distraction from my day. I had to seize the opportunity.

I even had grand plans for documenting the entire process to share here. Oh, but you know what they say about the best laid plans! In keeping with my ill luck where technology is concerned, my camera unfortunately ran out of batteries midway though my ravioli making process. (And wouldn’t you just know that I am flat out of batteries, courtesy of my kids’ energy gobbling toys?) At any rate, I will still show you what I do have, and share my yummy squash ravioli recipe with you. Please keep in mind that I am not the best measurer/documenter/writer when it comes to recipes. My cooking is highly variable, depending upon what’s in the kitchen, my mood and any other number of semi-random factors, so please bear with me if this or any of my recipes contain any gaping holes, horrendous grammar or other offensive gaffes. ;)

Delicata Squash Ravioli

3 lbs (more or less) Delicata squash
2 shallots
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp real maple syrup
Pinch of fresh lemon thyme (or any complimentary herb, fresh or dried, to your taste)
Salt & Pepper

Egg Pasta:
4 cups unbleached white or whole wheat flour (white provides a more delicate texture)
2 whole eggs
6 egg yolks
½ tsp coarse salt
½ to 1 cup of cool (not cold) water

Starting with the filling –
First, halve lengthwise and seed the squash, drizzle with olive oil and season with fresh ground salt & pepper. Bake them for about an hour in a 375 degree oven.
Meanwhile, coarsely chop and “sweat” 2 shallots in 1 tbsp of butter over medium heat. Shallots should be slightly caramelized, but still soft in texture.

Allow both squash & shallots to cool while starting the dough.

After the filling ingredients have cooled, scoop out the squash into a large bowl. Mash well. Add the cooked shallots, maple syrup (or sweetener of your choosing), salt, pepper & thyme and mix thoroughly.

The evolution of the squash.

The dough –
(Note: I use my stand mixer for this, as it is far easier on the hands/upper body) ;)

Put 4 cups of flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and add eggs and salt. Mix well. Begin to add the water one tablespoon at a time until dough comes together well and has a firm, slightly sticky feel. You may not need all of the water.

If you are using a pasta roller: divide your dough into manageable pieces, (about a fistful at a time) and put through your sheet roller. (I prefer to then fold the pasta sheet in half and pass through the roller again repeatedly until I get the texture and general shape that I want.) Flour your finished dough sheets and set aside for cutting.

If you are rolling out by hand: divide your dough into quarters (or smaller), flour well and roll out as thin as you like. The thinner you can roll the dough, the more delicate the pasta will be.

Use a small cookie cutter or other “stamp” of your choice to cut your sheets of dough into the desired shape and size of your ravioli. (I used a small, square Rubbermaid container with a fine edge as my stamp – about 1¼” x 1 ¼”.)

Place ¼ to ½ tsp of filling mixture (depending on the size of your ravioli) on each of your dough cut-outs. Wet the edge of one side of the round/square of dough and fold in half. Pinch edges together to form a firm seal. Lay finished raviolis on a cookie sheet and freeze solid, then bag and label and return to the freezer. Yields are variable, but for me, this worked out to make 8 dozen ravioli.

Whew! It was a long day of slaving over a hot oven and whirring mixer, but I am relieved to be able to scratch “Make Delicata Raviolis” off of my list. However, the squash still cometh and they cometh big time. I don’t think that I have it in me to devote another whole day of my life to this particular recipe again any time soon. Sooo… does anybody need any squash?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Wave 358 of the Tomato Bonanza

The tomatoes this year are as close to a bumper crop as my wee little garden can ever claim to have had. We’ve had an oddball summer here in Washington State; lots of record-breaking hot days and reasonably high humidity. This seems to be the magic combination where tomatoes are concerned, and so, to date, we’ve harvested over 30 pounds of ‘maters from our single 4x8’ raised bed – and they’re still coming.

As you can imagine, I’ve had to employ a little creativity in using all of these beautiful tomatoes. So far, I’ve made pasta sauce, fresh salsa, pizza sauce, dehydrator “sundried” tomatoes and about a million salads. For those of you also lucky enough to have a tomato surplus this year, I offer the first of what is likely to be a tidal wave of tomato-gobbling recipes.

Chelle’s Pizza Sauce
(Adapted from a recipe at MyKitchenGarden.)

*4-5 lbs blanched, peeled, cored & seeded cooking tomatoes
*4 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced (feel free to use more if you like it zesty)
*Assorted herbs to taste – I used a few pinches of each of fresh rosemary, oregano, basil and lemon thyme, all chopped.
*Salt & Pepper
*Splash of red wine
*Splash of good balsamic vinegar
*One or two tablespoons of organic sugar
*Tablespoon of olive oil

Roughly chop the tomatoes and stew them and all of the remaining ingredients in a pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally for at least an hour, or until the flavors begin to blend and the tomatoes start to break down. If you like your sauce on the chunky side, then it is done! If you prefer a more uniform consistency, use either an immersion blender
or standard blender to puree your sauce to your liking. This recipe yields about 6 cups of sauce, about 3 or 4 pizzas worth. ;)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

"You're being like a squirrel!"

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am currently in the grip of what might be fairly called a harvest mania.

Besides some of the great books that I have read on the importance of good food and living sustainably, and a natural inclination to take advantage of Mother nature’s offerings (free is good!), I am very lucky to have several like-minded friends who have abetted and otherwise encouraged my grow it/pick it/freeze it/can it frenzy this year.

I guess I should have noticed the warning signs that I was spinning a little out of control when I would post to my Facebook page “Going back to the blueberry patch today!” and my friends would playfully harass – You’re obsessed! You’re addicted! Out of control! Maybe when I nearly put my shoulder out of joint grinding tomatoes, or, when I began obsessively scouring Craigs List on a daily basis in the hunt for an affordable chest freezer… I probably should have realized that things were getting a little nuts.

As it was, it wasn’t until I was weighing, measuring and preparing for freezing yet another small mountain of zucchini that I was brought up short by my 9 year-old.

O: “Mama?”
M: “Yes?”
O: “You’re collecting a lot of food for the winter. You’re kind of being like a squirrel.”

It wasn’t an accusation; it was most certainly a fact. She was trying to let me know, in as gentle a way as she knew how, that I needed to put the zucchini down and back away slowly.

Since our little chat, I have tried to take it down a notch. I scrapped the spaghetti sauce canning and opted for bagging and freezing it. I have completely stopped my jam-a-thon – for now, and I’ve been giving away increasing amounts of tomatoes to friends and neighbors instead of trying to consume, dehydrate or can every last one by myself. The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. Therefore I say with a mixture of pride and shame: I, Michelle, am being like a squirrel.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Wine, wine everywhere...

...nor any drop to drink. I currently have two very promising batches of wine in the making, one rhubarb and one dark cherry. With a lot of help from my darling husband, we re-racked both wines last night - not without complications, of course.

I believe that Billy may have inhaled/huffed/swallowed a moderate amount of the cherry wine in his efforts to get the siphon hose working. Gravity has never been my friend and it certainly wasn't on our team last night either. In our clumsy efforts to decant the wine from the old container to the new, we accidentally stirred up the sediment in the bottom, thereby setting our wine back a little in the "clearing" process. :(

The job was not without its rewards though. The smell of the cherry wine in particular was heavenly! It is agonizing waiting for these wines to be finished and ready to drink, but such is the lot of a first year winemaker. As long as I make at least 2 or 3 batches per year, I should, in theory, never run out of tasty homemade wines.

Which brings me to the point of all this rambling. I will shortly be in possession of a few pounds of blackberries. I am on the fence about whether or not I should then turn said berries into yet more jam (the cupboard already holds upwards of 3 dozen jars of assorted jams) or try my hand at some blackberry wine. There is a poll at the bottom of this page where you can vote on what becomes of my gorgeous blackberries. Keep in mind, those of you who are in the area will probably at some point receive as a gift and/or partake-of the end result in some fashion, so - speak your piece!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fallout from a Blowout

On my last trip to Target, several weeks ago, I bought one of their little red reusable shopping bags for 99 cents. Why not? I'm forever forgetting my reusable bags, and I figure if I have enough of them stashed throughout my car, I might actually use them!

Anyhoo, as I am putting my newly purchased goods into the trunk of my car, I notice a blowout in the seam of by BRAND NEW BAG. Had I not had perishable goods in the car and places to be, I'd have marched straight back to the Target customer service desk and asked for my money back. However, I did have dairy products in the car and it was a mighty hot day. So, I decided I'd get my refund on the next trip.

Well, that Target bag has been riding shotgun with me for a few weeks now, irritating me anew each time I see the darn thing. So I ask myself - what am I doing? Is it really worth hanging on to to get my 99 cents back? Am I really that cheap?!?

A) Yes, I kind of am.

B) I feel that my earth-muffiny righteous indignation is entirely justified. This was supposed to be a reusable bag. An earth saver! This sorry sack didn't even last for one stinkin' use! And it isn't even recyclable!

C) I am a world-class Target shopper. Honestly, if you ask me where I bought something, the odds are excellent that the answer will be Target. Thus, I felt personally slighted by the store that I had so faithfully shopped on a weekly basis for years - over a 99 cent bag. I make no claim to being rational about this - quite the opposite indeed. I know I'm neurotic and I'm ok with that.

So what is a girl to do? Chuck the bag and beg the Earth's forgiveness or burn a little fossil fuel trucking that stinker back from whence it came?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Satan's Fruit Roll-up

Cherries are expensive. And, I may have gone a little overboard and bought a pound or three too many, just as my family's infatuation with the short-lived fruit abruptly ended. So, I found myself with a mountain of cherries, going south fast. What to do?

I froze some, turned some into wine, and my old standby for fruit on the cusp of funkytown, made some into fruit leather. Thumbs up on the first two! The wine is coming along well and I have a good amount of cherries frozen and awaiting their final destination in the form of a crisp or a smoothie. The fruit leather....not so much.

As they usually do, the girls tore into the fruit leather the minute it came out of the dehydrator, as did I. In fact, we all took our first (and last) bite at the same time. Whereas Livy tried to muster a compliment for my efforts through her just-ate-a-lemon pucker, Scarlet cut straight to the chase - "Ewwww!". Yes, they were hideous. Inexplicably foul.

Needless to say, we all promptly spit out our horrid cherries and composted the remainder. Unfortunately, fruit leather has a nasty habit of glomming itself onto your teeth and staying there as long as it pleases, toothbrushes be damned. How could something so good go so horribly, nauseatingly wrong?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A nasty case of "Sauce Shoulder"

My tomatoes are coming on fast and furious these past few weeks, prompting me to keep up a similar pace in turning them into something yummy. Today I took it upon myself to turn 5 pounds of ripe roma tomatoes into a lovely veggie pasta sauce, 8 cups of which went straight into seal-a-meal bags, and then the freezer (woohoo!).

Immediately following my spontaneous sauce-making spree, I felt a well-earned sense of accomplishment. A few hours later, I felt a well-earned throb in my right shoulder. I have dubbed this achy side effect of my 'mater milling "sauce shoulder". Though cranking 5 pounds of tomatoes through my tiny food mill, while listening to my ipod was actually relaxing at the time, I'm presently paying the price for my zeal for the homemade. Owie.